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With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Professional Development Opinion

Response: Advice on Getting Your First Teaching Job

By Larry Ferlazzo — March 11, 2019 20 min read
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(This is the final post in a four-part series. You can see Part One here; Part Two here; and Part Three here)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What are your suggestions for people applying for their first teaching job?

Part One included recommendations from Valerie Ruckes, Sanée Bell, Dr. PJ Caposey, Candace Hines, Mary Cathryn D. Ricker, and Rinard Pugh. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Valerie, Sanée, PJ, and Candace on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

Part Two‘s guests were Marquitta Mitchell, Luis Javier Pentón Herrera, Susan Lafond, Julia Thompson, Joe Mullikin, and Sean Ruday.

In Part Three, Dr. Beth Gotcher, Jen Schwanke, Tamera Musiowsky, Richard Gerver, Otis Kriegel, Elaine Miles, and Cindy Terebush shared their job search recommendations.

Today, Alex Kajitani, Brianna Burnette, Dawn Mitchell, Tina H. Boogren, Ann Traynor, Carol Pelletier Radford, Ron Nash, and Melissa Jackson contribute their ideas. I’ve also included comments from readers.

Response From Alex Kajitani

Alex Kajitani is the 2009 California teacher of the year and the author of several books, including Owning It, which was named “Recommended Reading” by the U.S. Department of Education. For more on all he does, visit www.AlexKajitani.com:

When applying for your first teaching job, remember that in most cases, it is the principal that makes the hiring decisions. With that in mind, begin introducing yourself to as many principals as possible, well before you start to apply for teaching jobs. When a principal has a job opening, you want to make sure that they think of YOU for the position.

Here are three specific things that you can do to begin to position yourself to get hired:

  1. Whenever you are on any campus as a substitute teacher, pop in to the principal’s office and introduce yourself (or just say “Hello” if you already know each other). If it’s the beginning of the day, let them know what room you will be in, and invite them to pop in any time during the day, and leave your business card with them. If it’s the end of the day, let them know that you had a great time and thank them for the opportunity to work there. Maybe mention something positive about the school. And of course, leave your card!

  2. If you are still doing your student-teaching, invite the principal in to observe you teaching a lesson (if there’s a lesson that you are very excited about teaching, let them know the exact day and time, so they can come and see). After the lesson, be sure to find the principal and ask for their feedback. Not only does this give you an opportunity to show off your teaching skills, it also shows that you are open to feedback—and a team player!

  3. Stay in touch. Even if a principal that you would like to work for doesn’t have a job opening, remember that they are sitting in meetings with other principals who do. Every few weeks, send the principals you’ve met a “just wanted to check in” email or forward them an article that you think they might find helpful or interesting. And don’t be shy about letting them know that you are looking for a job and asking if there is anyone else that they know who you might be able to contact.

Principals LOVE proactive teachers, and by doing the above, you will position yourself as someone who takes initiative, is collaborative, and wants the best for the school that hires you!

Response From Brianna Burnette & Dawn Mitchell

Brianna Burnette is a recent graduate of Furman University’s education program and will begin her first year of teaching at Mary H. Wright Elementary in Spartanburg, S.C. Connect with Brianna on twitter @breeburnette95

Dawn Mitchell serves in instructional services in Spartanburg District 6, where she leads the induction and mentoring program as well as provides professional development in literacy and in project-based learning. Dawn is also an adjunct instructor at Furman University, where she currently serves as a university supervisor and teacher mentor. Connect with Dawn on twitter @dawnjmitchell:

You’ve Graduated ... Now What? Suggestions for Applying for Your First Teaching Job

You’ve finished your student-teaching, taken all of your required final exams, and passed your state’s required Praxis exams. Congratulations! You’ve crossed the first finish line of college, and now it is time to begin the next journey of your teaching career. Preparing resumes, emailing principals, practicing interview responses, and gathering the best examples from your student-teaching can make applying for a job as a first-year teacher a daunting experience. Speaking from experience, I know it is doable with the right tools and support! Brianna and I have some great suggestions to help you along the way.

1. Be Prepared—With any interview, it will be important to prepare ahead of time. Most know to have resumes and cover letters printed and to be prompt and professional. There are many steps you can take beyond this initial preparation to help yourself stand out from a crowd. Have examples of your best teaching from your most recent clinical experiences including lesson plans, examples of student work that exemplifies your beliefs about education, and how you worked to put those beliefs into practice. For example, if you believe education should be engaging with hands-on opportunities for students, then be sure to have an example of a STEM lesson or project-based learning unit of study you’ve implemented.

It is also important to take time to research your school so you know what their mission and focus is about. Taking time to know what your prospective school culture is can help you provide specific examples of how you would be able to acclimate to their school and ways you could add value. Many schools have a team interview approach so be sure to have either multiple copies or even better, digital examples you can share on a learning platform or your own site for teachers to access.

2. Be Proactive—In addition to completing online applications to districts and schools you are interested in, it will be important to be proactive and email individual schools letting them know who you are, what position you are interested in, and why you feel you are uniquely qualified for the position at their school. Make sure to make it personal. If it looks and sounds like a form letter, it will not grab anyone’s attention. Take time to individualize your emails so that you have done your homework and know what the school’s mission and culture is all about and where and how you can add value. Whenever possible, go by in person and introduce yourself. Ask for opportunities for a school visit/and or tour, suggest observing a lesson in the grade level you are interested in.

3. Be Professional—It is important to dress professionally, but more than that, it is important to exude confidence in your readiness for the position. This shows in engaging your audience with eye contact throughout your interview and engaging your audience with dialogue and interactions that show not only your qualifications but more than that—who you are and what you are about. Take time to preplan what introductions, illustrations, examples, etc., you want to share in the interview that shows who you are and what you want to convey. You are in charge of the overall message your interview sends to your audience. Instead of waiting to determine what questions will be asked, consider what message you want to be sure to convey. You can weave those in throughout the question and answer conversation to be sure that what matters to you is what gets across.

Brianna just finished her senior block teaching experience at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. and navigated the interview process with confidence and enthusiasm, securing multiple job offers. She writes, “The number one thing is to be yourself; principals are looking for fun and innovative teachers who can enhance student learning and establish relationships with their students, their parents, and their colleagues. It’s nice to be up to date on the latest educational research, but remember to show an open and accepting personality that secures their reassurance that you as a teacher would truly make a difference in your classroom.”

Having over eight interviews in the last two months, Brianna has an inside scoop into some common interview questions principals ask. Here they are...

Top Five Interview Questions Principals Will Ask

  1. Tell us about yourself.

  • Only state three important facts that reveal something about you. (Your hobbies, interests, and one random fun fact)

  1. How do you plan to implement an effective behavior-management system, and how will you be flexible?

  • This one is my favorite, so make sure you talk about how there isn’t a “one size fits all” behavior plan that works for every child and that you’re flexible with implementing multiple methods that set high expectations, but also emphasize compassion and understanding.

  1. Explain how you intend to implement a balanced literacy plan in your classroom.

  • EVERY PRINCIPAL WILL ASK THIS. My favorite answer is to discuss the gradual release model and how you plan to look into multiple methods that foster and enhance student growth.

  1. Tell us about your integration of technology in the classroom.

  • This involves research.Take the opportunity to discuss a new medium of technology that not too many classroom teachers use and provide an example of how you would use this with both instruction and assessment.

  1. If we were to walk in your classroom, what would we see?

  • Let your personality take over for this question. Provide examples of your favorite student-teaching lessons/projects. The important thing to remember is that the classroom should be student-centered.

At the end of the day, make sure you practice your responses, ask your mentor or cooperating teacher, administrators, or other first-year teachers for help with your resume, and most importantly, have fun and be yourself!

Response From Tina H. Boogren

Tina H. Boogren, Ph.D., is an author and associate with Marzano Research and Solution Tree. She is the author of In the First Few Years: Reflections of a Beginning Teacher, Supporting Beginning Teachers, The Beginning Teacher’s Field Guide: Embarking on Your First Years, and Take Time for You: Self-Care Action Plans for Educators. To learn more about Tina’s work, visit www.facebook.com/selfcareforeducators or follow @THBoogren on Twitter and Instagram. To book Tina H. Boogren for professional development, contact pd@SolutionTree.com:

Applying for your first teaching job is incredibly exciting and also a bit intimidating. Don’t let your fear get the best of you, however. You’ve got this. Your teacher-preparation classes have (hopefully) prepared you well, and you have a resumé, cover letter, and perhaps a portfolio that is well-written, free of errors, and helps potential employers know what a quality candidate you are.

You’ll also want to seek out common interview questions. You can easily find these online and practice your oral responses with someone you trust. The more you can practice and prepare for the interview itself, the more relaxed you’ll be in the moment. Consider engaging in mindfulness activities before your interview to help you find the peace that allows you to be fully present and more excited than nervous. You might consider utilizing an app like Calm if mindfulness is a new practice for you.

Also, be sure to take time to get to the know the school district and the school where you’re applying by researching their websites and understanding their community. If you have the opportunity to be a substitute teacher in the building, jump on it, as that will help you get to know the environment, the students, fellow teachers, and the administrative team.

You might also consider asking questions about how you will be supported as a first-year teacher. Will you have a mentor, and if so, what will that relationship look like? If not, what other types of support will be provided to you? Remember that the best placement is in a school where you feel like you truly belong and are an important part of the school staff. Even as a first-year teacher, you have so much to contribute, both to your students and your department or grade-level team members as well. Know your worth and see this time of your career as both a gift and an exciting challenge.

Response From Ann Traynor

Ann Traynor, Ed.D., is the director of advising and certification at the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut:

Searching for your first teaching position can be a daunting, stressful process, but it is important to devote sufficient time to reflect, prepare, and network to find one that is a good fit for you.

First, you should reflect on your interests and values and consider several things prior to the job search. Where do you want to teach? Are you interested in staying close to home? Do you want to teach in a rural, suburban, or more urban district? Do you want to move to another town or state? What type of school most interests you (e.g., diverse population of students, themed magnet school, highly ranked school system) and what factors are most important (e.g., salary, working conditions, grade level/courses taught)?

Considering the high level of teacher attrition during the first three years, consider focusing your search on school districts that provide better working conditions (e.g., manageable workload, collaboration and mentoring, and autonomy). These conditions make it more likely you will remain in your first position.

Preparation time is evident to human-resources staff and administrators reviewing candidates. Your resume, cover letter, and other materials should provide an accurate and compelling reflection of your qualifications (some of my recent students created colorful tri-fold brochures highlighting their experiences and achievements). Make an appointment at your university career-development office, which often provides resume critiques and mock interviewing. Practice your three-minute elevator pitch and answering potential interview questions with fellow students, parents, and your adviser. Monitor job-posting websites both local (such as cea.org/jobs or ctreap.net in Connecticut) and national (schoolspring.com, indeed.com, etc.). Positions are often listed on school district websites, so check there, too.

Job-seekers should research districts, review district and school websites (especially district budget and strategic plan), and search online for district-related news. Prior to your first interview, you should drive/walk around the district and attend a school event (football game, concert, etc.). Information gleaned from visiting this district will give you an idea about the culture and prove invaluable when interviewing. The day of your interview, arrive early; this will reduce your anxiety. Once you enter the school, your interview has begun. Each person you interact with should be considered part of the hiring team, including the school secretary.

With fewer available positions and a glut of applicants, teachers applying for elementary education and social studies positions need to differentiate themselves. If your skills meet a particular district need, all the better. For example, prospective elementary teachers could highlight second-language proficiency, sheltered English instruction courses, and experience working with English-language learners.

Finally, one of the best ways to secure your first teaching position is through networking with teachers and administrators at university clinic placements. Treat these placements like semesterlong job interviews. Each day is an opportunity to demonstrate how you would behave as a new employee. Show up early and stay late. Demonstrate passion for teaching, commitment to educating all students, and your ability to work collaboratively with others.

Response From Carol Pelletier Radford

The ideas presented here are modified from Carol Pelletier Radford’s book Strategies for Successful Student Teaching: A Guide to Student Teaching, The Job Search, and Your First Classroom (Pearson 3rd edition). She is also the author of The First Years Matter: Becoming an Effective Teacher (Corwin Press 2nd edition). Visit her website MentoringinAction.com to learn more about her online courses, books, and free resources:

Applying for Your First Teaching Job: Three Questions You Need to Ask Yourself

As a former director of student-teaching at two institutions of higher education, I have had lots of experience with student-teachers and interns who are looking for their first teaching position. These are three of the questions they found most useful.

Question 1. Where do I want to teach?

The job search can be overwhelming. Most student-teachers don’t know where to begin. One way to focus is to ask yourself these questions.

Consider these questions to focus your job search:

  • Do I want to be near my home or find a job in another state or country?
  • Am I looking for an urban, suburban, or rural environment?
  • Is a public, private, or charter school for me?
  • Does the mission of the school matter to me?
  • Do I want to be in a school district that will provide me with a mentor?

I believe articulating your dream teaching job clarifies your values and helps you focus. Now you are ready to begin the application process!

Question 2. How can I personalize the online application process?

The online process puts you into an applicant pool with perhaps hundreds of other candidates. Your goal is to get an interview so the district can meet you in person.

Consider these suggestions to separate yourself from the other applicants:

  • MAIL a cover letter to the district superintendent and principal. Include details about the district’s mission and why you would like to work there.
  • CREATE a digital or hard copy brochure or mini-portfolio with photos of you in the classroom in action. Include quotes or testimonials from your supervisors.
  • MAKE a short (2 minutes or less) video sharing your beliefs and passion for teaching.

I believe showing that extra effort demonstrates your willingness to go beyond the basic application process to highlight your strengths. This will get you that interview!

Question 3. How can I prepare for a successful interview?

If you stand out, you will get an interview. This is your opportunity to share your passion for teaching and why this district should hire you!

Consider the following practical steps to help you get a job offer:

  • PRACTICE responding to potential questions with a partner. Seriously—this works.
  • BRING HANDOUTS to the meeting to share your ideas and lessons.
  • ASK QUESTIONS at the end of the interview to show your interest in the district.

I believe taking the time to reflect on these three questions and the practical steps you can take to share your strengths will support you in landing your dream job!

Good luck!

Response From Ron Nash

Ron Nash, author of The Power of We, is a former teacher, curriculum coordinator, and organizational development specialist in the Virginia Beach City public schools. Over the past 24 years, Ron has presented at dozens of national, state, and regional conferences. These include ASCD, Learning Forward, NBTPS, and Eric Jensen’s Learning Brain Expo. His workshops are highly interactive, modeling practical engagement strategies K-12 teachers can use in classrooms immediately:

As a young sales representative of a major yearbook company, I once talked myself out of a major contract with a high school. I had been given 30 minutes with the school’s headmaster and yearbook adviser. When I was finished bragging about our program and regaling them with everything we could do for them, the headmaster called me into his office and said, “You may want to know why you didn’t get the contract.” He explained that I had spent absolutely no time trying to learn anything about the school or their yearbook program. I had expressed no interest in what they were doing. I hadn’t asked them any questions at all, and I had spent a good deal of time offering things they didn’t need or want. I learned the hard way to babble less and ask more questions.

Prospective teachers would do well to find out as much as possible about the district and/or the school that’s filling the position. Is the district’s focus on communication (writing, speaking, and listening), collaboration, critical thinking, and citizenship? Is the SIP (School Improvement Plan) displayed on the school’s website? If so, how can you specifically contribute to the goals of the school and/or the district? As an administrator involved in hiring for our organizational-development office, I was impressed when candidates showed a good deal of knowledge about what we valued and what we were trying to accomplish, rather than just ticking off a laundry list of their own perceived strengths or academic degrees.

Building principals want to know that anyone they hire understands that they teach kids, not content. “Knowing one’s stuff,” while that is certainly crucial in the mind of the administrator trying to fill the position, is less important than knowing one’s students. The best principal I ever knew constantly asked this question of her entire staff: “Is what we are doing best for children?” Administrators—and parents—want to believe their teachers will do what is best for children. Applicants for any teaching position would do well to demonstrate that every day, they will do what’s best for the students in their care.

Response From Melissa Jackson

Melissa Jackson is an ESL teacher at Southeast Middle School in Kernersville, N.C., grades 6-8. Her husband is a high school assistant principal, and they have two high school teenagers. She loves film, voiceovers, and hanging out with her family:

For most people who are applying for their first teaching job, putting together a solid application is the genesis of the process. This is important, but what is also important is to think about the type of schools you want to work in and visit these schools or maybe even volunteer if possible. Parents visit schools to see what the culture will be like before their children attend, and potential teachers should, too. Visiting schools first can be quite beneficial. You get to really see how the school functions, the demographics of the school, and being exposed to this will help greatly when it is time to apply and interview.

Once you’ve narrowed it down to the schools you want to work in, you should check with the school or school district to see what is required for you to apply and do precisely as stated. If a resume and portfolio are required, make sure it is updated and professional. Once you get an interview, prepare for it by thinking about the types of questions you will be asked. If you are asked why you want to work at a particular school and you have visited or volunteered there, use this firsthand experience.

Responses From Readers

Phil Brann:

Interview the principal. Make sure you’re all the right fit.

Michael Waters:

Talk about your employment history. We are more likely to hire someone who has worked every summer than one who has never had a job.

Thanks to Alex, Brianna, Dawn, Tina, Ann, Carol, Ron, and Melissa for their contributions.

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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